Mean Green Defense Throttles FIU For 17-14 Victory
North Texas Wins Final Home Game Of 2014
Tight end Marcus Smith catches a four-yard touchdown pass in the first quarter (photo by Rick Yeatts)
DENTON - The North Texas defense has been much criticized this year, but Saturday's performance in the final home game of 2014 harkened back to the kind of suffocating attack the Mean Green displayed so often a year ago.
"I'm just so proud of these guys," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said after the Mean Green's 17-14 win over Florida International on a rainy senior day at Apogee Stadium. "Anytime you give up zero points on defense, you have played your tails off."
A brilliant effort from the North Texas secondary allowed just 56 yards passing and snared three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter to snuff FIU's final two possessions: by senior cornerback James Jones in the end zone and by sophomore Chad Davis with 2:53 to play. Overall, the Mean Green held FIU to a season-low 147 yards total offense and permitted the Panthers to convert just two-of-13 third downs.
FIU's only points came on a pair of 70-plus-yard returns. A 74-yard punt return late in the first quarter made it 14-7, and, after North Texas moved into scoring position on a Kenny Buyers interception at the FIU 36, the Panthers got a 70-yard pick six with 43 seconds left in the half that tied the game at 14-14.
Offensively, senior running back Reggie Pegram rushed for a career-high 114 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown scamper, tight end Marcus Smith caught a four-yard touchdown pass, and true-freshman place kicker Trevor Moore hit a 36-yard field goal at the end of the third quarter to break a 14-14 tie.
But the Mean Green offense also had its struggles. After getting off its best start of conference play, scoring 40 seconds into the game and reaching the end zones on its first two possessions, North Texas managed just 127 yards of total offense the rest of the way. But an 18-yard punt return by Darvin Kidsy late in the third quarter set up the Mean Green at the FIU 42 and led to Moore's go-ahead field goal.
What They Said
"We've been through so much together. It was really neat to see our defense give up zero points for him, and we gave him a game ball."
--Dan McCarney on defensive coordinator John Skladany, who is retiring after this season
"We came out and played for coach Skladany and the seniors tonight."
--Senior defensive back James Jones
"We all wanted to leave here and say we had a winning record at Apogee."
--Senior running back Reggie Pegram, on his final home game at North Texas
"I didn't get touched. It was a great job by the offensive line."
--Pegram on his first-quarter touchdown run
• North Texas' opening possession was the quickest scoring drive of the season, a two-play, 40-second drive covering 79 yards. The drive began with a 25-yard pass from Andrew McNulty to tight end Marcus Smith, followed a Reggie Pegram 54-yard scoring run.
• Defensive end Daryl Mason had his second sack and second forced fumble of the year on FIU's opening possession. The Panthers recovered the fumble, but the loss killed the drive and forced a punt.
• This was the fourth time this season North Texas has held a 14-0 lead. The previous three were in wins over SMU, Nicholls State and Florida Atlantic.
• FAU's punt return for a touchdown was the first the Mean Green has allowed since 2012, when LSU's Odell Beckham, Jr., returned a punt 70 yards for a score.
• The North Texas offense has struggled much of the year, averaging just 4.9 yards per play. But in the first quarter Saturday, the Mean Green averaged 7.9 yards per play.
• Trevor Moore is now 36-for-36 on extra points. The school record is 37-for-37 by Iseed Khoury and Keith Chapman.
• Moore is also 11-for-13 on field goals after missing a 49-yard kick in the second quarter, only his second miss of the season, and hitting the go-ahead kick in the third period.
• Defensive back Kenny Buyers grabbed an interception in the second quarter, his second pick of the season and fifth of his career.
• Defensive tackle Austin Orr had his second forced fumble of the year when he ripped the ball loose from FIU quarterback Alex McGough.
• North Texas was flagged for only one penalty Saturday, the fewest times the Mean Green has been penalized under Dan McCarney.
• James Jones's fourth-quarter interception was his third of the season and fourth of his career.
• Chad Davis's fourth-quarter interception was the first of his career.
• Carlos Harris had three receptions to up his career total to 126 career receptions. Harris is in 10th place on the North Texas career list, and needs 11 receptions next week to tie Marving Walker (1979-82) for ninth-place all-time.
• The 2014-15 Mean Green senior class has 16 home wins, tied for the most in a four-year span at NT since 2001-04. The senior class finished 16-7 at home.
• Linebacker Derek Akunne has 101 tackles for the year, tops in Conference USA, and he now has 301 for his career.
North Texas ends the 2014 season Saturday, Nov. 29, against UTSA in San Antonio. Game time is 11 a.m.